Trading Spaces

Monique Powell is driving to The Home Depot.

That's an interesting thought, isn't it? Monique Powell, the sassy, vivacious lead singer of the ska-core collective Save Ferris, is driving her Dodge Durango through the hills of Los Angeles to the nearest branch of the hardware superstore. Anyone who's seen the spunky yet tantalizing performer wrap her opera-trained alto around rousing party tunes (a lexicologically challenged writer once described her pipes as "vehemous") wouldn't expect her to be a home improvement kind of gal.

But this is one of a couple of revelations she's ready to lay out. Another is the fact that Save Ferris is no more. After eight years of fronting the Orange County-based band, Powell is now a free agent. The dismantling has been under way for about a minute now. Three of the band members -- bassist Bill Uechi, guitarist Brian Mashburn and alto saxophonist Eric Zamora -- have left the group and moved on to more personal endeavors, such as getting married and starting families.

"For the first time in my career, I can make all of the choices myself," Powell says. "And even the mistakes I can own as well. I love it. It's, like, the most exciting feeling."

But instead of just heading up to that big VH1 Where Are They Now? episode in the sky, Powell and the remaining band members, drummer Evan Kilbourne and trumpet man Steve "Baby Bird" White, decided to go on a final blowout tour. (They'll be joined by stand-ins on sax, guitar and bass.) "It's just for the fans," she says, not unexpectedly. "We've had really, really loyal fans for eight years, and we just wanted to be able to say thank you to them, one last time."

Powell says that she and her boys always did have a ball on the road, where they appeared on such summer packages as the H.O.R.D.E. fest and Vans Warped tours back in the day. But Powell is in full-on remodeling mode -- she's spackling her house and her act. "We were undergoing a serious overhaul," she says. "We got rid of everybody that we were working with. We started replacing new management, new business management, new everything. And it was probably the right time for the [band members] to, I guess, move on, rather than wait and move on later, when everything [new] was in place."

Ferris has always been compared to another, more successful Orange County ska-tinged band, so perhaps a drastic overhaul was in order. When Ferris broke out with its full-length debut, It Means Everything, in 1997, the comparisons to No Doubt came piling on faster than you could say Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Powell, with her voluptuous figure and swinging-broad demeanor, was labeled the anti-Gwen Stefani, a full-bodied brunette alternative to the skin-and-bones platinum blond. What does she think of the comparison?

"I have to say the same thing to you that I've said to every other journalist for eight years," she declares, "and that is that the comparisons are lazy journalism, and hopefully, we've come upon a time when bands aren't gonna have to be compared to other bands. Rather than comparing, we can describe their sound of music. And I know that's difficult, but that's a journalist's job."

Thanks for the lecture. Wow, it almost makes me ashamed for bringing the whole damn thing up.

"You shouldn't feel ashamed," corrects Powell graciously. "If you know anything about me and the band, you'll know that that's something that I'm gonna say if you bring it up. And I can't not bring it up, 'cause it's tradition."

But still…In the late '90s, the neo-ska movement rampaged like a mutating SARS virus through the bloodstream of popular music. As Smash Mouth became known as a poor man's Sugar Ray, and Sugar Ray in turn was branded a bubblegum version of Sublime, the comparisons between Doubt and Ferris were inevitable. "No Doubt and us and a ton of other bands came out of the same scene in Orange County," she acknowledges. "We were influenced by the same lifestyle. And, of course, our music is gonna sound the same. And Gwen and I were the only two chicks coming out of the scene, so they would compare her to me and compare me to her. It's totally not even a big deal. I love that band."

And although they've crossed paths a few times, Powell insists that if she and Stefani ever sat down and traded war stories about being the lone lady in male-dominated bands, it wouldn't result in a Melrose Place-style catfight. As Powell says, "I'm sure there would be a lot of laughs."

But it's a new day for Monique Powell, not the time to look back. The L.A. native is trying to skip into a new mode of music for her solo debut. Although the album isn't done and she doesn't have a label yet, she does reveal that it will have more of an electronic slant.

"Hopefully I'll have something out next year that's gonna sound nothing like Save Ferris," she says. "I guess you'll just have to hear it, but if it's terrible, I'll call you and let you know first."

Oh, the Save Ferris gal's got jokes! Well, you can't blame her for being so cheeky. She's looking forward to reinventing herself. "For me, it's about having a good product and a good song to give," she says. "And it's not about me owning all of the publishing, 'cause I'm not in this to be the richest, most famous person in the world. I'm just in it to do a really good job."

And if she succeeds, she can just hire people to work on her house.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey